Over a weekend on October 3rd and 4th of 2015 to be exact, I headed off to explore Nikko with my two friends, A and N. For us, it wasn’t a long weekend or anything. It was intended to be a relaxing weekend at the onsen, but it turned out to be much more. The trip became an adventurous trip into the past of Japan.
Traveling to Nikko was very simple and easy. A and I took a train from the town I lived in to Nikko. We started around 8:30am in the morning and getting there about 10:30am – taking us both approximately 2 hours to travel to Nikko. If you were to live in more the centralised part of Tokyo, it would take approximately about 3 hours to get there. I won’t go into detail as to which trains I took as you can easily research on google maps or use the Hyperdia.com and you should be able to find your way easily. One main piece of advise I have is that trains you want to catch to Nikko may require a reserve ticket. You can either find a gentleman on the platform to help you, a ticket machine or go to the ticket box with a conductor there. I made the mistake of not knowing, but I was lucky to spot a train conductor on the platform to allow me a ticket. My friend, N, on the other hand had a bit of a hiccup as she didn’t have a ticket and was a little confused what to do and consequently missed the train. Do not be afraid to get on the train with the wrong ticket, because Japan can resolve that easily for you.
When A and I got to Nikko, we weren’t in any hurry to check into our ryokan yet. Because we only had two days in Nikko, we wanted to get started with explored. Arriving at Nikko, we realised it was indeed It probably was of the most popular destinations for Japanese and international tourists to visit for a short getaway from Tokyo. There were two stations at Nikko, Nikko station and Tobu-Nikko station. Both had very all equipped information centers. The staff there spoke great English and were very welcoming. For a place in Japan to have such well equipped information centers, that’s definitely an indication that it’s a popular place that people visit.
Once exiting the station, we ate lunch, saw a main road and we simply started walking up that road to kick start our adventure. I had booked an overnight stay at a ryokan called Nikko Tokinoyuu. It was towards the end of the main road which was extremely convenient. Our walk toward the ryokan was a very enjoyable one. The road wasn’t a large one but a very entertaining and modern road filled with many food adventures. A and I ate quite a bit before arriving at the ryokan including ramen, mochi ice-cream, rice cake dumplings (dango) and more. When we arrived at the end of the main road, we were at our ryokan. We were lucky that the ryokan allowed us to check in early and very shortly, N arrived. The three of us set off our adventure for Nikko.
Nikko is a historic city located in Tochigi Prefecture. I had heard and seen many posters about Nikko before on train platforms about it being a lovely historic location. That it was. Leaving our ryokan within 5 minutes, we were met with a world heritage bridge, The Shinkyo Bridge. It was a rather short bridge and we learnt that it acts as a gateway to the shrines and temples of Nikko. We had to pay to see the bridge up close and we should actually walk in the bridge, but a overlay of wood put on top of the bridge.
Adventuring on, we headed towards the main attraction of Nikko, Shrines and Temples of Nikko. Walking into the Shrines and Temples of Nikko, we realised that the name was very true to its location. Many shrines and temples were located at the site. The assets left at this location are centuries old and are well-known for their architectural and decorative designs. A, being a history teacher, informed me that this world heritage site was closely associated with the history of the Tokugawa Shoguns, which were highly powerful folk in the whole history of Japan. I realised that was true when we saw the tomb of Tokugawa Ieyasu who practically built the family for ruled Japan for over 200 years.
I don’t exactly remember all the names of the shrines and temples I saw at Nikko, but I do remember seeing one particular Shrine getting rebuilt inside a huge man-made shed of some sort. We bought tickets to go in and climb up that temple to see a beautiful view of Nikko. Following over there, I saw the infamous three monkeys and Nikko Toushougo, Rinnou-ji, the pagoda, and more. You can see more photos I took in Nikko here.
It was quite extraordinary really to have so much history in one single location. Dawn came sooner than we thought; and we wanted to see more of Nikko, but we realised that it was quite hard to achieve without a car. Hence, we headed for dinner and went back to the ryokan for a lovely soak at the onsen.
The second day of our trip started with a breakfast at the ryokan then a walk back to the train station as we wanted to do to Edo Wonderland. A had convinced us that it was a good idea to go see a theme park that was Edo period themed and filled with ninjas. It did not disappoint.
You catch a bus from the station and arrive straight to Edo Wonderland. Once purchasing the ticket, the experience into the Edo period begins right at the gates where you hand in your ticket. Everyone from that point onward is wearing some form of clothing that was worn during that time of history. It was quite amazing and really grows on you as time goes on because you may begin to believe you’ve walked into a completely different world. Men wore the hairstyles of a Shogun and women had their huge wigs plus kimono. There were games where you can play throwing ninja darts. One of the most immersive experiences at the theme park was watching a ninja show. Two people were acting in an anime-like plot and fought like ninja during the dark. It was really hard to describe expect say I would highly recommend this to anyone. We spent the entire day there and when leaving, we were greeted with a line of men dressed in their shogun kimonos and saying “Thank you for coming, please come again” in Japanese.
Edo Wonderland all does seen bazaar at first, but it is something that should be experienced at least once. We had learnt that Nikko was rather a large place when we visited the information centre and that we couldn’t possibly explore all of it during our short 2-day visit. If I were to go next time, having a car would be highly considered. You would get so much more about of having a car. There are buses of course, but given our spread out things are at Nikko, I would say a car is more beneficial. I definitely wish to go again and see more of it, and more, to stay in a better ryokan.